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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

"That's Not Inflammable!" and other Double-Negative Adventures

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When I was little I tried to use the explanation of double negatives to win arguments.

Older kid: “There’s not no such thing as Santa!”
Me: “You said ‘not no’! So you’re saying there is such a thing as Santa!”

This approach did not work. It was probably good foreshadowing for my future career interests, though.

That's not Inflammable!" and other double-negative adventures

Grammatically speaking, a double negative is when a writer or speaker uses two negations in a single sentence. And a negation is a word or addition to a word that reverses its meaning. Examples of negations include: no, not, nothing, nowhere, never, the prefixes un- (as in, uncovered or unintentional) and in- (as in inexcusable and indirect), and the suffix -less (as in useless and motionless). (Though just because the English language is weird, “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing.) 

While it’s sometimes easy to understand the intended meaning of a double negative (like in the case of the kid who argued against Santa’s existence) it’s important to avoid double negatives as they can occasionally be confused with litotes.

Litotes is a fancy word for a figure of speech that uses understatement for emphasis. For example, someone might say “I don’t have no time.” If they are using a double negative, this would mean that they do not have availability in their schedule. In the case of litotes, however, they might be emphasizing the fact that they do have a little time. They could be clarifying that they’re not completely unavailable. Someone who says, “I can’t go nowhere” could either mean they are unable to leave their current location or that they absolutely must leave that location (“I can’t go nowhere!”) Like many other grammar rules, the difference between litotes and double negatives is usually obvious when said aloud, and is clarified by the speaker’s tone. Let's look at a few examples to illustrate my point.

In the 2016 Ghostbusters movie, Kristin Wiig’s character finds herself without her proton energy pack or identifying jumpsuit just as the supernatural apocalypse begins. She rushes to the street to flag down a cab and frantically tells the driver (Dan Aykroyd in a fan-appreciated cameo) where she needs to go. Aykroyd shrugs and tells her, “Eh, that’s a little bit further uptown than I like to go.” When Wiig protests that there are “real ghosts” invading New York, Aykroyd flippantly responds, “I don’t drive wackos, I don’t go to Chinatown, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” before driving off. Audiences watching this scene are not likely to confuse Aykroyd's meaning – he doesn’t want to drive Wiig to Chinatown, and he isn’t afraid of the ghosts she points out.

Alternatively, inflection is harder to convey in academic writing. A writer trying to clarify responsibility for patient care, for example, might want to emphasize the patient’s own agency while not diminishing the importance of responsible professional care. Their paper might read, “The patient’s care should not never be considered part of the patient’s own day-to-day priorities.” 

Here the writer would want the reader to read this as litotes. But a reader might mistakenly believe the writer is not following conventional grammar rules, and actually believes that the patient’s day-to-day priorities should never include their own care.

To ensure clarity, the writer could revise this to “Although a patient’s care is always an important part of a health professional’s responsibilities, the patient themselves should also prioritize their own care.” 

In U.S. academic writing, the onus is on the writer to make sure the reader understands exactly what each sentence means. Since we currently don’t have a way to establish tone and inflection in writing, it’s best to avoid double negatives, even now that you’ve got such an excellent understanding of how they work.

And while this post probably won’t help you win any debates through grammatical explanation, you can impress your friends with your knowledge of “litotes” at your next party. Or you can blow their minds with the whole flammable/inflammable thing.

Kacy Walz Author picture - Walden University Writing Center Instructor

Kacy Walz is a Minnesota native currently living in St. Louis, MO. She has been a Writing Instructor at Walden since 2016 and spends most of her free time trying to complete her PhD, seeking out adventure, and playing with her puppy dog.

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Thursday Thoughts: Live Webinars in May

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Spring is a great time to build your academic writing knowledge and skills and we have several live webinars in May to help you do just that! As usual, we have relevant webinars for every student.

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Plagiarism Prevention: The Three Components to Avoiding Plagiarism
Thursday, May 2nd, 2019 8:00p.m.-9:00 p.m. (Eastern)
Plagiarism can be an intimidating concept for many student writers. Everyone wants to avoid plagiarism, but it can be unclear what exactly plagiarism is and how to avoid it. Join the Writing Center for our three ways to avoid plagiarism in your writing. In this session you'll learn how to identify plagiarism, but then practical ways to avoid plagiarism in your own writing.
Tuesday, May 7th, 2019 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. (Eastern)
In this webinar we will discuss advanced sentence structure errors and how to avoid them, focusing on revising tips and practice. Attend this webinar to learn how to become a better proofreader of your own grammar!

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019 6:00 p.m.-2700 p.m. (Eastern)
It's difficult to fulfill all of the requirements of an assignment if you're not sure what the assignment prompt is asking you to do, right? This webinar takes students through the three sections of Walden assignment prompts, presenting 7 strategies you can use for dissecting and demystifying the writing assignment requirements. We will also discuss what to do when you find an assignment prompt confusing and tips for what requirements are often required but left unsaid (like a thesis statement).

Writing at the Graduate Level
Monday, May 20th. 2019 8:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. (Eastern)
We are not born knowing how to write academically, and you did not enter graduate school knowing how to write like a graduate student. After all, writing is a learning process. This session will discuss the characteristics of scholarly writing, giving you strategies to elevate your writing to graduate school expectations.

Discussing Method, Procedure, and Study Design
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. (Eastern)
Your reader not only wants to understand the results of your study, but also how you achieved those results: in other words, the rationale for your design and the methodology for collecting data. Join this webinar for a discussion of common writing issues students face when discussing these elements as well as strategies for overcoming them.

Thursday, May 30th, 2019 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. (Eastern)
Paragraphs are the building blocks of an academic essay, and the strength of your writing and argument depend on developing effective paragraphs. Learn how to develop effective academic paragraphs by using topic, analysis, evidence, and concluding sentences (including an explanation of the MEAL plan). You will leave this webinar with a better understanding of the components of an effective paragraph, as well as tips for creating cohesion between and within paragraphs.

If you are unable to attend any of these sessions in person, we post recordings of every live webinar event on the Walden University Writing Center website. The recordings of these sessions are posted 24 hours after they take place, and you can watch them free and on-demand. 

The Walden University Writing Center creates content to help students with a range of topics related to scholarly writing, APA style, and the writing process. We host webinars, and offer paper reviews, live chat, and a podcast.

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The Most Overlooked Writing Center Resource? Proofreading Tips

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When I was a student, I wrote a lot of papers, and I really do mean A LOT! In addition to course papers, I wrote discussion posts and other shorter assignments. Eventually, of course, I wrote both a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation to complete the final written work for these degrees. I can’t even imagine how many pages I wrote collectively. If it’s not clear, while I loved writing about my topics, the writing itself could, admittedly, sometimes be somewhat time consuming and even burdensome, despite my passion for the topics I wrote about and reminding myself about one of my final goals: graduation. 

The Most Overlooked Writing Center Resource? Proofreading Tips

In the Writing Center, we often talk about the writing process as a reiterative, sometimes nonlinear, process, which includes various forms of pre-writing, drafting, revising, and proofreading or editing. This was my process for each and every document I wrote as a student, especially as a graduate student when both the stakes and expectations were higher. However, as I noted, this process could sometimes take its toll, especially towards the end when it was time for the final proofreading and editing of my work. After all, I had read each of my documents several times throughout the process of my writing them, so I wasn’t sure I could take one more look and really be able to see where I needed to make final edits. Yet, if I didn’t do final proofreading and editing to my work, I would have missed some minor but important issues that could have cost me a grade in the end and/or made my professors take me and my work less seriously. 

I think our page on proofreading—usually the final stage of the writing process—is one of the most overlooked Writing Center resources. I imagine, like me, many students find this a difficult stage of the writing process because they have read their own work multiple times and the deadline for the document is coming up with additional documents to be written in the future to begin working on. Proofreading doesn’t have to be a difficult or burdensome final step in the writing process, though. On our proofreading page, we offer tips to help students make this final step easier, productive, and, I would argue, enjoyable.

For instance, one of the first suggestions we provide for proofreading is to distance yourself from your work. Not only will this give you a better chance at looking at your document again with fresher eyes, it will give you a chance to reflect on what you have accomplished. I know that once I returned to a document I wrote, I felt a sense of accomplishment which made me want to make sure that I took the time to polish my work. I worked so much on the document already; I didn’t want all that work to go to waste on some typos or other errors that could have easily been avoided if I took the time to proofread my final draft. 

A couple other tips we suggest are to have someone else look over the document and or read your document aloud to you. This is a great way to distance yourself from your work as well because this allows you to focus on what is being said, allowing you to be your own critical listener or having your own outside critical reader. Having support during your degree program is important, so I suggest making sure that you have a classmate or family member you can rely on to support you not only emotionally, but also critically. To be clear, make sure that the people you choose to read your work are those who are going to provide you with the critical feedback you need. Positive feedback is always great, but critical feedback is what can help you develop your scholarly writing skills. 

I only covered a few of our proofreading tips, so check out our page on proofreading for more. Let us know what Writing Center proofreading tips worked for you and/or any proofreading tips you have of your own!

Veronica Oliver author pic

Veronica Oliver is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.

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Thursday Thoughts: Writing For Social Change Webinar Series

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One thing we take seriously here in the Walden University Writing Center is our students' commitment to positive social change. The programs of study they enter, the original research they produce, and their professional commitments all speak to the importance of Walden University's mission in their lives and work. These students use their skills, expertise, and determination to do amazing things for people all over the world. 

Writing is central to this project. There are a variety forms and genres, not always scholarly, that can help these agents of change. So to support these scholar-practitioners in their journeys, our staff of professional writing instructors creates resources that are aimed specifically at supporting Walden students' social change goals. Below are three of our most popular social change resources: Live Webinar recordings of sessions that approach writing for social change in different ways. 

Writing For Social Change Webinar Series

Exploring Perspectives: In this webinar, you'll join a discussion about writing and social change. You'll have the change to discuss your own goals for social change and learn how writing can help you achieve those goals. Specific attention will be paid to how writing can help you generate ideas, as well as how you can use writing in areas like social media, grants, newspapers, and blogs to communicate your vision for social change. 

Using Restorative Writing to Enact Social Change: Maintaining personal wellness is key to achieving your goals. Additionally, writing can be a useful tool for processing difficult events and discovering connections between your experiences and local, community, or global problems. In this webinar, you will explore how you can use restorative writing to promote wellness for yourself and your community. Information about the concept of restorative writing and how it evolved in academia will serve as the foundation for our discussion before you practice restorative writing during this webinar. Finally, you will reflect on how restorative writing can help you enact social change.

Grant Proposals: Sometimes achieving social change requires support from others. This webinar will give you tips for communicating your goals for social change through grant proposals, introducing you to this genre of writing. While we will not provide tips for finding grants, you will be able to use this webinar to help you communicate your social change vision to others in the grant format.

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The Walden University Writing Center 
produces webinars that teach APA guidelines and writing skills for all Walden students, along with webinars specifically for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral capstone students. Webinars offer live writing instruction, as well as an opportunity for students to connect via Q&A and chatting with staff and other Walden students, and each webinar is recorded for later viewing. 

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Skipping a MEAL: When to Not Use MEAL Plan Paragraphs

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If you’re familiar with the Walden University Writing Center and our recommendations, you’ve probably heard about the MEAL plan for paragraph development. The MEAL plan is a wonderful tool to help keep your paragraphs focused and ensure that you’re supporting your evidence with analysis. However, there are times when the MEAL structure doesn’t work as effectively, and I want to go over a few of those in my blog post today. 

Delicious Fresh Salad with the title text superimposed

1. Introductions
Introductions to your work generally won’t follow the MEAL plan. This is because in an introduction you begin more generally and get specific, culminating in your thesis statement. Unlike a MEAL plan paragraph, which is connected back to your thesis through the topic sentence and lead out, your introduction is doing a bit of a different job in preparing your reader for the context of your paper and ending with a focus on your argument.

2. Conclusions
Like an introduction, a conclusion paragraph is doing slightly different work than a standard MEAL plan paragraph in your paper. A conclusion sums up the important details and points from your paper, and generally doesn’t include evidence and analysis—it’s all pretty much analysis and summary at that point! The MEAL plan structure doesn’t work well with conclusions for this reason.

3. A letter or other document type
If your assignment is to write a document that is not a typical course paper (like a letter to a government official, interview transcript, statistical report, etc.) then the MEAL plan is typically not very effective, simply because the forms of these documents are unique—just like academic papers are unique in using the MEAL plan! You definitely can keep the MEAL plan in mind as you write, but the purposes of these documents or sections of a paper are different, they likely won’t have a thesis, and some may not even require outside evidence. The MEAL plan structure generally won’t apply in these circumstances.

4. A problem statement or premise/prospectus
Like the examples listed above, parts of your premise/prospectus may not use the MEAL plan because they have a specific structure and content already in place. Be sure to follow premise or prospectus guidance documents and look at examples of these documents to ensure you are meeting expectations—and when in doubt ask your chair! The MEAL plan will likely be helpful in some parts of your premise/prospectus, but others are very specific regarding length and focus, so default to the guidance documents or faculty expertise in these cases.

When should you use the MEAL plan? In body paragraphs in your academic assignments for Walden coursework! A typical discussion post or course paper should use the MEAL plan in the body paragraphs (after your introduction and conclusion). However, keep these exceptions in mind and use your judgement and faculty as resources to help you effectively use the MEAL plan as well as shift to other formatting and approaches where relevant and necessary.

Claire Helakoski author photo

Claire Helakoski is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. Claire also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast. Through these multi-modal avenues, Claire delivers innovative and inspiring writing instruction to Walden students around the world.

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Thursday Thoughts: Navigating Group Papers

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Strategies for Navigating Group Papers

Academic writing can already be a challenge, but group papers add an additional wrinkle into the writing process because there are collaborative and interpersonal elements involved. Here are some Writing Center resources that might help you navigate your next group paper:

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The Walden University Writing Center supports Walden University in its goal of providing a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change.

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WriteCast Episode 61 (Plus Episode Bonus): Restorative Writing

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This week here on the Walden University Writing Center Blog, we'd like to share with you our most-recent podcast episode of WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. This month's episode introduces our listeners to the idea of restorative writing: a practice where people who have experienced trauma use writing to begin to heal.

Writing Instructors Ellen and Miranda join Kacy and Claire for this month's special episode to describe more about what restorative writing is, how to practice restorative writing, and how to use it as a vehicle to understand and process individual and/or community trauma. Ultimately, restorative writing can help writers discover ways to heal and overcome those challenges through social change. 

Episode 61 also features an "episode bonus" which we are very excited to share with you. This bonus contains a follow-along activity from episode 61. Click the player below to access only the guided writing opportunity from the episode. 

As always, you can access our entire library of WriteCast episodes, along with full transcripts, by visiting our podcast resources page on our website

Please also consult these episode resources:

  • Batzer, B. (2016). Healing classrooms: Therapeutic possibilities in academic writing. Composition Forum34. Retrieved from http://compositionforum.com/
  • DeSalvo, L. A. (2000). Writing as a way of healing: How telling our stories transforms our lives. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

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WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers is a monthly podcast written, produced, and published by staff in the Walden University Writing Center. Join us each month for a dialogue between two experienced writing instructors. Possible episode topics will always be considered from listeners--share your questions and suggestions in the comments. 

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WriteCast Episode 56: Writing for Social Change: Letters to Legislators

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In this episode of the WriteCast podcast, Claire and Kacy sit down with Melissa Meghan, two Walden Writing Center instructors, to talk about how they work toward positive social change in their communities by writing to their local representatives. Claire and Kacy ask Melissa Meghan to share how this type of writing is similar and different to academic writing, the tools they use when writing for social change, and their experiences with the process. As a student working to create positive social change, we hope that this podcast episode helps you think about the ways in which your academic writing can develop into other forms of writing.

To subscribe to WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, click the icons in the player below or click "subscribe" for sharing options. 

Visit our show page for a list of all of our WriteCast episodes and written transcripts for each episode.  

Resources from this episode:

Walden University Writing Center

The Walden University Writing Center supports Walden University in its goal of providing a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change.

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The Five Es of Development in Scholarly Research Writing

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When I used to teach in-person writing courses, I would sometimes comment on papers about questions I had as a reader. Every time my students would verbally answer the questions – their explanations made perfect sense. However, those ideas needed to be complete and clear in the writing. Unlike a conversation you have with a person, once you write something down, that is it! It is frozen, solid, locked-in. You can’t go back and expand or clarify. You can’t follow people around as they read your work telling them: “Well, what I meant was…” That’s why it is important to get your writing as complete as possible. 

Brainstorming on a whiteboard with the title text

A complete piece of writing is a developed piece of writing, and well-developed writing relies on the inclusion of relevant and plentiful details. But what counts as details? In today’s blog post, I would like to present the idea of the “Big Es” that I use to encourage Walden University writers to more-fully develop their ideas. 

Evidence includes details you have found in your research that are related to your topic, interesting, and that spark a response in you. These include statistics, data, or proof of some sort. Remember, you will be commenting on the research in some way, which is why it is important that this data or evidence means something to you.

For example, in a paper about emergency room safety, a writer would want to include statistics that prove how safe (or unsafe) that environment is. If the writer wanted to prove that the emergency room in their city was unsafe, statistics and data showing a high rate of post-visit infections would do a lot of support that claim.

Expert opinion can be a useful detail as it gives you a chance to engage in a conversation with the leading voices in your field. As a student writer, you are working on becoming an expert in your field. Eventually, you will be interacting with other experts. You can practice this in your course work by including expert opinion and then responding to it. Do you agree? Disagree? How does it relate to other content you have read? Additionally, it is possible to use experts to bolster your own opinion. It can be powerful to include expert opinion when that expert agrees with you. While we can’t solely paraphrase and quote experts over and over and expect that to develop our writing, if you find an expert who agrees with you, it is possible to point to them as proof that your thinking is sound.

For example, if a writer was proposing a new health regulation, they could base their regulation on suggestions made by experts. It isn’t possible to be an expert on everything, so if this writer is an expert in legislation, they would need some help from experts in other fields to craft proposed bills, laws, and regulations.

An example is helpful because it shows your topic in action. Examples are short summaries of something that happened at some point in time. They illustrate complex theories or ideas that are hard to see otherwise. If you are writing a narrative or personal reflection, you will likely want to include some examples from your own life and work. As you describe what happened to you, you will then be able to follow it up with analysis about why it is important, what it reveals, or how it inspired you. Note that you can also include examples that you read about in your research; case studies are common examples writers include.

For example, in a paper that looks at the pros and cons of different instructional strategies, the writer may want to use examples from their own classroom to illustrate the challenges and benefits they saw. These examples could be paired with other examples and results found in the research as well, which would work together to develop a comprehensive look at those instructional strategies.

I know that this is redundant, but explanation is where you get to explain. Try to answer questions like: What does this mean? Why is it important? What is significant? Who should care? How can someone use this information? If you can walk the reader through your flow of ideas by providing a step-by-step guide to your logic, the reader is easily able to see where you are coming from and may be more likely to agree with your final argument or conclusion. 

For example, in a paper about how organizational leaders can capitalize on the strengths of their teams, the writer would likely define what it means to capitalize on strengths, present research and expert voices on this strategy, and perhaps even share examples of how they have done so in their own work. Following this, the writer could explain why it is important to capitalize on strengths in that way. Explaining how and why can help your reader follow along.

Ok, ok, ok, energy isn’t really a concrete thing you can include in your writing. It can’t be found in a source or typed in a document. However, energy matters because you can have a thousand details, but readers can tell if your passion and energy are missing. Reading something where the writer’s interest shines through makes it more engaging for the reader as well. If you don’t have an interest in your topic, it’s a good idea to see what parts of it you can shift so that it is interesting to you.

For example, if a student has to write about counseling strategies they could use with a specific hypothetical client, the student could see if they can choose which client to write about. They could also review all of the counseling strategies to pick the one(s) they feel the most passionate about. Either of these would help bring more of their energy and excitement to the writing.

These Big Es can help remind you of all the content out that that you can include as details or evidence in your paragraphs. Feeling stuck in the middle of drafting can be frustrating, so turn to this list to see if inspiration hits in terms of finding a new type of detail to include. If you want to spend more time thinking about your paragraphs and development, consider working on our paragraph development module or watching our webinar on building and organizing academic arguments.

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Melissa Sharpe is a Writing Instructor in teh Walden University Writing Center. Her favorite part of working with writers is helping to facilitate the writing process. 

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